The Cable Curveball: How to Watch Every MLB Game
A complete guide to confusing cable deals, cutting the cord, and those pesky blackout rules
The smell of hotdogs, the crunch of peanut shells, that little white ball sailing over the outfield fence... they can only mean one thing: Baseball is back!
Sure, we've had NBA, the NFL, the NHL, and even the Olympics to keep us company, but it's been a cold and bleak five months without our great American pastime.
With the return of baseball comes the ever-present question of how best to catch every moment and root, root, root for the home team. Here's our complete guide to watching all 162 games.
The Cable Conundrum
First things first: The most reliable way to watch every baseball game this season is to pay for cable and a DVR. Every 2014 game will be broadcast on either FOX, ESPN, TBS, the MLB Network, or your local sports network. If you just want to watch your home team, those channels will let you do that.
But be careful about which cable package you choose. Most cable providers do not include ESPN or your local sports network in the basic package; you'll need to go at least one step up from there.
In some parts of the country, things can get even trickier. Not only do you have to take a close look at your cable package, but you also have to look at your cable provider. The brand new Dodgers channel—SportsNet LA—has signed an exclusive deal with Time Warner Cable, and Time Warner still hasn't brokered a deal with any of the other providers. The result? Almost 70% of Dodgers fans can't watch opening day.
That's nothing new for fans in North Carolina (Time Warner refuses to carry MASN, which broadcasts Orioles and Nationals games) or fans in Connecticut (Cox refuses to carry YES, which broadcasts Yankees games).
So, as long as you get the right cable provider and the right cable package—and as long as you're willing to shell out big bucks for your monthly bill—you can tune in to this schedule:
- Sunday afternoon: TBS or local station
- Sunday night: ESPN or local station
- Monday night: ESPN or local station
- Tuesday night: local station only
- Wednesday night: ESPN or local station
- Thursday: MLB Network or local station
- Friday: local station only
- Saturday: FOX or local station
If the home team just isn't enough, you can sign up for MLB Extra Innings, which will give you access to nearly every game across the league. The down side is that MLB has some awfully complicated blackout rules (we'll get to those later), so if a game is being broadcast on FOX or ESPN, you'll need to watch it on one of those stations.
Ditch the Cable Company
When people talk about cutting the cord, they're usually talking about getting all TV through streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. What doesn't get discussed nearly enough is the digital antenna option.
Where online streaming services require you to pay monthly fees, a digital antenna requires just a low one-time investment. For $40 or less, you get free access to your local broadcast stations all year round, in full HD. While OTA (over-the-air, aka "terrestrial") TV is a great deal, it doesn't get you a whole lot of baseball. The only OTA station that carries baseball is FOX, which broadcasts a selection of games on Saturday afternoons and evenings, as well as some ALCS and NLCS games and the World Series.
The digital antenna also gets you access to regular network television and plenty of non-baseball sporting events. For a full listing of available OTA stations, check out TitanTV.
Digital antenna options are many and varied, but they have one thing in common: These aren't the clunky rabbit ears of your childhood. Today's antennae are sleeker and provide far better reception than they used to, in some cases pulling in stations from half a state away (though range and reception can vary heavily based on geography and weather).
MLB.tv and Blackouts
And now for the final piece of the puzzle: MLB.tv. So you're ditching your cable provider and buying an antenna. Great. That will get you FOX's Saturday games. Now what?
For most people, the answer is MLB.tv. You can watch live games streaming on your computer, XBox, Playstation, Roku, TiVo, Apple TV, and most smart TVs, all of which offer the MLB.tv app.
This online service gives you access to all the games from all the teams throughout the entire season. But there's one very notable exception: blackouts.
It's common for leagues to prevent online streaming of games being played in local regions. For instance, if you live in Cleveland, MLB.tv will let you watch games played all over the country—except in Cleveland. That's to protect the league's licensing deals with major networks, who pay big bucks to televise these games.
MLB.tv is a great option for transplants and college students. A Mariners fan going to school at Harvard, for example, will be thrilled with MLB.tv (except when the Mariners come to Fenway).
The problem is that the MLB is arguably the absolute worst sports league in terms of blackouts. The markets aren't determined by a simple 75-mile radius; they sweep across the country like a plague of nonsense, blacking out six teams in Las Vegas, along with the entire state of Iowa. Braves territory extends far down into Florida. And if you live in Charlotte, North Carolina, you don't even have a home stadium you can go to, but you won't be able to watch the Braves, the Nationals, the Orioles, or the Reds.
And just to be clear, these blackouts apply whether your team is at home or away. If you live in St. Louis, you can't watch your Cardinals at Busch or at Wrigley.
That's a lot to swallow when you're paying $110 per season, but it's still considerably cheaper than paying a monthly cable bill.
For a complete explanation of the MLB's blackout rules—and a widget that will show you what teams are blocked from what zip code—head straight to MLB.com.
Getting Around the Blackout
Just how does the MLB know where you are and what games should be blacked out? For starters, the service checks your IP address. If your IP address is coming from Houston, then MLB.tv won't show you Astros games.
Getting around this digital blockade is technologically quite simple, but also quite illegal. You can use a proxy server to fool MLB into thinking you're someplace you're not, but in August 2013, a US court in California ruled the use of a proxy is illegal. And starting last season, MBL.tv began verifying the home billing addresses of users suspected of employing a proxy.
The ethical gray areas don't end with proxies. Plenty of users are ditching MLB.tv altogether and sending their friends a Slingbox so they can share local cable. Of course, Slingbox insists that so-called "Slingbox hosting" practice violates their license agreement and we can't in good conscience recommend something that could get you in trouble with the law.
We're sure that creative and enterprising baseball fans will continue to find a way around the system, but the fact is that MLB.tv is not a good solution for in-market fans that want to catch every game.
What to Do
Simply put, there's no easy, affordable solution for watching your home team through all 162 games of the year. The most reliable method (cable TV) is also the most expensive. And the more affordable options (like MLB.tv) will leave you high and dry for the games that matter the most.
If you truly want to cut the cord and see your home team live, we suggest doing it the way that millions of fans have done it since 1846: Get down to the ballpark, buy yourself a ticket, squeeze into that little seat, and enjoy the crack of the bat. While you're at it, buy me some peanuts and Crackerjacks.
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